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Case Update, NWLC to Iowa Supreme Court: Strictest Abortion Mandatory Delay Law in the Country Will Harm Iowa Women

On May 5, the Governor of Iowa signed an extreme 72-hour mandatory delay and two-trip requirement for patients who have decided to have an abortion.  This law poses serious threats to the health, economic security, and autonomy of women in Iowa—especially to those who already face barriers to obtaining safe health care.   In response to an emergency request filed by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa—with support from NWLC and partners—the Iowa Supreme Court stopped the law from going into effect while the matter was being resolved in court.

But on September 29, an Iowa trial court upheld the 72-hour mandatory delay and two-trip requirement, despite noting that “[t]he Iowa Act is arguably the strictest mandatory waiting period law in the country….”  By upholding the law, the judge ignored the tremendous harm the Act will impose on women who have decided to have an abortion in Iowa.  Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa promptly appealed the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court.

The National Women’s Law Center recently submitted an amicus brief to the Iowa Supreme Court on behalf of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, highlighting the multiple ways that the law will harm patients, in particular, those who already face barriers to obtaining health care.

  1. The law will impose substantial burdens on rural patients who have to travel to an abortion provider. Approximately 89% of Iowa counties have no abortion provider, and 42% of Iowa women live in those counties. Requiring patients to make two trips to their provider separated by a minimum of 72 hours will force them to spend more money on transportation and lodging during their procedure, take more time off of work, and expend more resources on child care. This will delay care for many patients and completely prevent others from accessing abortion at all.
  2. The law will increase costs for those in Iowa who are already struggling to make ends meet. 13% of Iowa women live in poverty – and the rates are even higher for women of color, with 37% of Black women, 26% of Latinas, 17% of Asian women, and 29% of Native women in Iowa living in poverty. Additionally, 20% of Iowa women work in low-wage jobs. The added costs caused by requiring women to visit a clinic more than 72 hours apart will be insurmountable for some of these women and will delay care for anyone who has to save more money to cover the increased cost.
  3. The law will inflict particular harm upon individuals who are pregnant as a result of rape. Individuals who are pregnant as a result of sexual assault already have to deal with the trauma of the assault. Forcing them to spend additional time and money on travel, child care, and to miss work or school, exacerbates this trauma, making this requirement particularly cruel for survivors of rape.
  4. The law will jeopardize the safety of individuals experiencing domestic violence. By requiring patients to return to a clinic multiple times, several days apart, this law makes it more difficult for individuals whose partners use violence or psychological coercion to control their daily movements or their use of money. Furthermore, women in small rural towns in Iowa are more likely than other Iowa women to experience intimate partner violence, and the violence becomes more severe the more geographically isolated a woman is. Women who are in situations involving domestic violence are more likely to remain stuck in those situations when they are unable to access the abortions that they seek.
  5. The law threatens Iowans’ ability to use medication abortion, which some patients need and others prefer. Women frequently prefer medication abortion for many reasons, including that it allows for greater privacy and autonomy than the surgical procedure – which may be particularly meaningful for sexual assault survivors. In Iowa, 64% of abortions are medication abortions. Sometimes, medication abortion is also a better medical option for women who, for instance, may have a preexisting condition that makes the surgical procedure riskier. The delays that will result from this law will force some women past the window in their pregnancy where they can use medication abortion.

And of course, it is important to note as we did in our brief, that many individuals fall into more than one of these categories and will be harmed in multiple ways as a result of this law.

Often, it seems politicians and courts lose sight of the women who shoulder the burdens of their political agendas—NWLC and our partners are here to ensure that—whether in court, the legislatures, or the streets—those voices are amplified loud and clear.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.